MAY 23: As expected, Cincinnati announced this morning that Mahle, Almora, Kuhnel and Drury have been reinstated from the restricted list before tonight’s series opener with the Cubs. Aquino, Aschraft and Motter have been returned to the minors and are no longer on the 40-man roster.
MAY 20: The Reds announced a host of roster moves before their series against the Blue Jays. First baseman Joey Votto has been reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list. Outfielder Aristides Aquino, righty Graham Ashcraft and utilityman Taylor Motter have all been selected to the majors as designated COVID “substitutes.”
Cincinnati placed four players — Tyler Mahle, Albert Almora Jr., Joel Kuhnel and Brandon Drury — on the restricted list. That’s standard procedure for players who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 playing on teams that are headed to Toronto. The Canadian government prohibits unvaccinated players from entering the country, so that quartet will be unavailable for this weekend’s series.
Votto returns after missing more than two weeks because of virus concerns. The six-time All-Star began experiencing COVID symptoms during the first week of May, and he wound up missing enough time the organization sent him on a brief minor league rehab assignment. After a pair of appearances with Triple-A Louisville, the Toronto native returns for a set against his hometown club. He’ll look to right the ship offensively after the time off; Votto has opened the season in a dreadful .122/.278/.135 slump through 22 games.
Aquino, Motter and Ashcraft all occupy temporary spots on the roster. That the club specified they were COVID substitutes suggests it’s likely to be a brief stint for all three. Players whose contracts are selected with that designation can be removed from the 40-man roster and returned to the minors without passing through waivers as the team returns to full strength. In the Reds’ case, that’ll be after this series, so each of Aquino, Motter and Ashcraft is probably only up for three days.
The righty-hitting Aquino opened the year in the majors but got out to an awful start. He was outrighted off the roster earlier this month, but he’s tattooed Triple-A pitching (.314/.405/.743 with four homers) through ten games. Motter signed a minor league deal last month. The righty-hitting utilityman is hitting .245/.344/.566 with Louisville and offers some multi-positional depth in Drury’s place.
While this figures to be a brief stint for Ashcraft, the 24-year-old will probably play a notable role on the roster before too long. A sixth-round pick out of UAB in 2019, the 6’2″ hurler has quickly developed into one of the better arms in the farm system. Ashcraft split last season between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga, posting an even 3.00 ERA across 111 innings. He’s spent this year with Louisville, working to a 1.65 ERA over seven starts, albeit without great strikeout or walk numbers.
Baseball America recently ranked Ashcraft the #12 prospect in the Cincinnati organization, praising a mid-90s cut fastball that serves as his primary offering. Both BA and FanGraphs — which slotted him #17 in the system — suggest that Ashcraft’s below-average changeup and inconsistent control point to a long-term bullpen future, but he’s remained a starter to this point as a pro. Ashcraft will have to be added to the 40-man roster next offseason to keep him from selection in the Rule 5 draft, and potential trades by the last-place Reds could open an extended opportunity for him later this summer.
Cincinnati also announced that shortstop José Barrero will begin a rehab assignment with the Bats. The club’s anticipated regular shortstop, he hasn’t played this season after suffering a hamate injury during Spring Training. Position players can spend up to 20 days on rehab assignments, suggesting Barrero’s set to make his 2022 debut within the next three weeks assuming all goes well in the minors.